Sample from Guafengzhai

Yiwu has lots of villages, and probably more than anywhere else, every puerh lover these days are pretty intimate with Yiwu geography. The villages closer to Yiwu town include things like Luoshuidong, Mahei, and Daxishu. Then you have Gaoshan zhai to the northwest towards Manzhuan, which includes villages like Xiangming. To the northeast, though, are relatively newer places like Zhangjiawan, Dingjiazhai, and right up against the Laos border to the East of Yiwu is Guafengzhai. These are some of the hottest places in the Yiwu area these days, ever since they became known as “good” places to find tea of real quality, mostly because villages like Mahei and Luoshuidong are, in my opinion anyway, quite inferior and not very good usually. The further you go, it seems, the more likely you’re going to hit relatively virgin patches of tea trees, although these days they’re all harvested to the hilt.

This is really the opposite of things like wine, where the famous regions are quite often the ones that seem to produce the most. I think this has a lot to do with the belief that old tree teas are better, therefore the supply of such things are, by definition, limited and confined to a small area. This then drive up prices, and eventually it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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I do like my good Yiwu though, and some of the best are indeed the ones that are labeled as old trees. The above is a sample from Guafengzhai I got from the same store in Dongguan that sold me the Jingmai. They only had a few cakes left, and I didn’t want to buy anything that I haven’t tried, so I asked for a sample and the shopkeeper gladly gave this chunk to me. It’s hard to show such things, but even just looking at the whole cake, you can tell this is good, well made tea.

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One of the things that takes a while to get when trying these old tree teas is that they are subtle – very often, they don’t give you any “bang” whatsoever. Instead, the bang can be very soft, at least initially. There’s no overwhelming bitterness nor obvious, high fragrance. It does, however, fill your mouth with something, and that something should stick with you for a long time. This tea, for example, gives my throat a cooling sensation after I swallow, but before that, it really doesn’t seem all that remarkable. After you drink a few cups, however, you do feel that it has qi, which is in fact quite strong and obvious.

I remember trying really hard to figure out during 2006/2007 what were the ways to really identify old tree teas. There were various theories, and at that time everyone was trying to do the same thing. I think I can now say, with some confidence, that most of the teas that come out hitting you hard in some way or another is not an old tree tea. I’m not saying weak, mellow ones are, but the ones that stimulate your tongue or mouth strongly probably aren’t.

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I didn’t use that much leaves for this sample, and the tea lasted about two kettles before turning into sweet water. The leaves are soft, well rolled, with stems that are flexible and not woody. I do like a good Yiwu indeed, especially a spring tea, and I think I need to go buy more of this.


Comments

Sample from Guafengzhai — 4 Comments

  1. I think I would humbly disagree.

    I would say that old trees can be harder to taste, rather than lighter. They have a much bigger dynamic range (talking about Banna + Jingmai). Therefore, there are subtleties and irregularities inside something of a broad flavor. I think that the correct way to think about it is that old tree teas don’t color the tongue in primary flavors. Younger tree leaves can impart a strong flavor *note*, but not really a stronger overall flavor. This tends to be very obvious when it comes to special production blends that are said to have old tree leaves. For example, the Dayi 7542-208 is much louder in taste than comparable traditional Dayi and Xiaguan blends. A Sanhetang 2006 Youle has more of everything, relative to a 2003 Six Famous Tea Mountains Youle–with the real difference being that the 2003 Youle taste/aroma is somewhat simpler (and harsher) in complexity. Something like Nada’s 2011 Douyizhai, or the various Hekai teas, they could be said to be relatively quiet, but compare that to, say YS Autumn ’10 Pasha, and it’s easy to tell that the Hekai is much more intense and together. Lastly, uberstrong teas like the Nada Bulang, Jing Mei Tang Guang Bien Lao Zhai ’07, or Sanhetang Pasha ’09 ply their trades with a smoothness and/or integrity that makes it hard for me to believe that they aren’t old tree.

    I think, in the end, there is just as much diversity in how old tree tea behaves as there are of old tree tea plantations.

    Personally, I think the best way to tell old tree tea from not so old tree tea is the strength of character at around brew 10 in a session of short infusions. I.e, whether a strong theme taste and qi is present, rather than teawater.

    • I don’t think I ever used the word “light” or “lighter”. Subtle and light are not the same, and in fact I explicitly said it should fill your mouth with “something” – but that something is not high fragrance or obvious punchiness. So I don’t think we’re really disagreeing here.

      I do, however, think it’s not wise to compare across production areas and generalize that way. A Lao Banzhang is always going to be more punchy compared with a Yiwu, but that “punchy” character can take many different forms. There are a few general traits you can find with old tree teas that are rather consistent, but are hard to describe in words in any meaningful way. The same can be said of seasons and, to some extent, manufacturers.

  2. Most of my Yiwu experience has been with an approximately ’07 white label cake that I brew fairly regularly. It’s got quite a punch and a decent qi but I really don’t know much about it’s origins. I have however been fortunate to try Toki’s ’06 that definitely has that “something” without the same intensity as my ’07. The ’06 also lingers much longer and has a woodier quality with a stronger qi. I believe this tea is from old trees and after your analysis, even with my limited experience it seems that my ’07 is probably not.

    What year is this Yiwu sample from?

    On a side note, my once shu Puer pot has converted nicely to Sheng with not noticeable shu qualities coming out in the brews. Even better, the crack in the pot that used to leak has miraculously been sealed ever since starting to brew Sheng. Thanks for your advice!

  3. My two words is that if a tea is made from plantations, it will taste bad if you overbrew it. If you brew an old trees tea much more than usual, it should taste powerful, but not puckery. It’s a common test when buying maocha in the mountain, you brew the tea in a mug or whatever you have, wait for one minute, take one sip, wait for one minute more and have another sip; it is a relatively easy way to know what you buy then.

    I think the best indicator for Gushu is the feeling, often, you feel ”high” but not excited as if you drank coffee. Yiwu tea is a great example of tea that doesn’t taste strong but that give you a heavy Chaqi, maybe that is why it ages so well.

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